The Virtue of Meekness
Blessed are the Meek - Second Beatitude

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Saint John the Baptist - by CARAVAGGIO - from Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basle

 

sheen.gif (6584 bytes) "The great Greek Historian, Lecky, said that the surest sign of Utter Degradation is when Men speak of Virtues as if they were Vices, and of Vices as if they were Virtues. "They altered", he says, "the customary meaning of words in reference to actions. Men looked on Deeds of Infamy and were not shocked. The Sin of the World and its Moral Corruption infected the air. Men were Naked and not Ashamed, not because they were Innocent, but because no Sense of Guilt assailed them".

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

 

Blessed are the Meek

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

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Jesus delivers the Eight Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) -
by ROSSELLI, Cosimo -
from Cappella Sistina, Vatican
(Click Image to Enlarge)


The Beatitudes were given by no Prophet. They were given by God Himself Who became Man. There was no Human Person as intermediary. It was God Himself Who gave us the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes were given to the Human Race which was about to be Redeemed by the Passion and Death of Christ.

Our Blessed Lord began the Sermon on the Mountain with Eight (8) short Maxims which summarize, or contain in 'Embryo', the Gospel Message He came to Live and Teach. We refer to the Eight (8) Beatitudes, the Message of which are in great contrast to the Wisdom of the World. While Salvation is promised to those who live by them, the Perfect Fulfillment of what they promise is not in this World, but in the next. Yet, if the measure that their demands are met, they bring - even in this World - the Peace of Christ in the midst of Life's Tribulations.

We are considering here the Second Beatitude, "Blessed are the Meek, for they shall possess the Earth" (Matthew 5:4). This requires an examination of the Virtue of Meekness, a Virtue that is Little-Understood and Little-Esteemed in a World that Glorifies Power and Might, where "Might is Right".

 

The Virtue of Meekness

Passions/
Emotions
Anger/Envy/Lust,
Love/Hatred,
Desire/Aversion,
Joy/Sorrow,
Hope/Despair,
Fear/Courage

Meekness is a Virtue which Moderates the Passion of Anger according to the Dictates of Reason, and Calms the Desire for Revenge (Saint Thomas II II,157,1 & 2). It Restrains one from wanting to Inflict Injury for Injury. It enables one, relying on the Father's Will, to remain Tranquil in the face of Wrongs done him/her (ibid. I II,69,3). Saint Paul stressed the need of this Virtue in his Letter to the Thessalonians: "See that none of you repays Evil for Evil, but always seeks to do Good to one another and to all" (1Thessalonians 5:15).

Because of the Inclinations of our Fallen Nature we are usually inclined to Avenge every Offense, and to Resist every Adversary. Such is the Spirit of the World, but not the Spirit of Christ. In time of Adversity, Meekness inclines not to Revenge, but to Gentleness and Patience, to Pardon Personal Insults; and in Trials allowed by God's Providence - to Patience and Resignation. It helps us to endure Difficulties that we encounter in those of different Tastes and Dispositions. It is an Indispensable Aid to Charity in bearing Wrongs Patiently, and avoiding Bitterness when Misunderstood or Undervalued. It saves one from answering back quickly with Wounding Words, that afterwards one wishes had never been said. In a word, it enables one to endure Affronts and Injuries in a Spirit of Mildness dictated by Reason enlightened by Faith. In all such situations it drives the Thought and Inclination to Revenge out of one's Mind and Heart, thereby removing a Key Obstacle to the Work of the Holy Spirit in the Soul. "Do nothing to Sadden the Holy Spirit with Whom you were Sealed against the Day of redemption. Get rid of all Bitterness, all Passion and Anger, Harsh Words, Slander, and Malice of every kind" (Ephesians 4:30).

"Blessed are the Meek" said our Blessed Lord, "for they shall possess the Earth". The Earth that is promised to the Meek is not Temporal Territory or the Earth's Riches, but the Riches of Christ's Inheritance. In the Old Testament, God promised Land (the Promised Land) to the Israelites as a Reward for their Obedience; but that was only a Type or Figure of the Greater Promise made by Christ in the New Law. As we have pointed out, the Perfect Fulfillment of that Promise is in Heaven; but Christ promised to provide even in-this-life the Basic Temporal Necessities to those who "seek first the Kingdom of God and His Justice" (Matthew 6:33).

Righteous-Anger of Christ in Cleansing of the Temple
by GIORDANO, Luca -
from Bob Jones University Collection, Greenville

When we say that Meekness moderates the Passion of Anger according to the Dictates of Reason, it is because the Passion of Anger, in itself, is neither Good nor Evil. It can be either. There is such a thing as a Just and Righteous Anger. We have examples of this when Christ drove the Money Changers out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12), and when He looked upon the Pharisees with Anger because of their Hardness of Heart as He cured the Man with the Withered Hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Again, Moses was filled with Righteous Anger when he broke the Tablets of the Law as he came upon the Israelites Worshiping the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:19).

Consequently, while Anger when aroused in Fallen Nature is most often Blameworthy, we see that it can be Praiseworthy and Just, when Meekness directs it according to the Dictates of Justice and Charity. We are speaking of Anger that tries to Destroy Sin, without wishing to Destroy the Sinner. "Be Angry and Sin not" (Ephesians 4:26; Psalm 4:5). Even in Just Anger, however, one must be careful not to Sin by Excess. Saint Bernard reminds us that there are Two (2) Extremes one must avoid in this matter: "It is a Sin not to be Angry when one should be Angry; but to be Angry more than is necessary is equally sinful". Father Walter Farrell, O.P. speaks in similar language: "There are times when our failure to be Angry is a Weakness, when we hold back the Punishment because our Love is not strong enough to be Just" (Comp. to Summa, p.457).

 

False Concepts of Meekness

It would be a Grave Misconception of Meekness to confuse it with Timidity or Cowardice. The Modern World may look upon Meekness as a Weakness, as one Afraid to stand up for his/her Rights, as one unwilling to fight-back in the face of Insult or Offense. Yet, on the contrary, as Father Walter Farrell, O.P. explains, "the Meek Man is a Conqueror; for he/she has subdued the Wildest Passion of Man, the Passion that strikes most suddenly and most devastatingly. This is not the Task of the Timid Person, but rather of a Fearless Rider of a Wild Steed he/she has subdued".

In contrast to this, our Modern Movies at times hold up as Hero the Macho who in his/her Unbridled Anger Inflicts untold Damage and Destruction to seek Revenge; and who deals with his Victims with unbelievable Brutality. If such a one might display Physical Strength, it is a pitiful display of Spiritual Weakness. For such a one is often a Slave of the Demands of the Ego, and uses the Passion of Anger to his/her own Selfish Ends.

Meekness, then, is rooted in Spiritual Strength, for it requires Great Spiritual Strength to keep the Emotion of Anger under control; and the very practice of that Virtue calls for Frequent Acts of such Strength. Understood properly, the Meek are those who are Truly Strong in the Christian sense, Strong with the Strength that brings about Conquests, the Fruits of which are Eternal. Yet, as we saw in the case of a Righteous Anger, the Meek Person will fight-back with Controlled Anger, when his/her Rights or the Rights of others are Abused. However, since it is so easy to be Mistaken in Judging the Just Motive of Anger, being inclined as we are to Wishful Thinking when the Ego is Hurt, and because Anger easily gets out-of-control, one must be Vigilant lest a Sudden Movement of Anger would carry one beyond the Limits of Justice and Charity. In this regard, Father Jordan Aumann, O.P. warns: "In case of Doubt, it is better to Incline to the Side of Meekness than to the Danger of Excessive Rigor" (Spiritual Theology p. 301).

 

The Meekness of Christ

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Temperance

* Meekness &
* Humility
Abstinence
Sobriety
Chastity
Continence
Modesty

 

When Our Blessed Lord calls our attention to His Own Meekness, He singles-out another Virtue which is its Immediate Foundation, and without which one will never control the Passion of Anger. "Learn of Me", He said, "for I am Meek and Humble of Heart" (Matthew 11:29). Neither of these Two (2) Virtues are popular in our Secular Society, but both are essential for the follower of Christ. Just as Meekness calms the Passion of Anger, so Humility restrains the inclination to Pride. And as Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. points out, "it takes only a small amount of Pride, of Self-Love, of Attachment to our way of seeing and doing things, to make us unable to stand opposition" (Div. Intimacy).

In our Blessed Lord, then, we see both the Expression of Just Anger, and the Suppression of the Passion of Anger when Falsely Accused and Roughly Treated during the Passion. Both of these are the Fruit of the Virtue of Meekness. He Who is Lord and Master of all Mankind and Creator of the entire Universe, remained Meek and Humble of Heart when being treated with Sheer Contempt by His own Creatures. In this, Christ the Redeemer made Reparation for our Pride, and Christ the Teacher pointed out the way to the Father.

The Passion of Anger

We will better understand the Work of the Virtue of Meekness if we see a bit in detail the Violent Passion it keeps in Control. Anger is the Spontaneous Reaction to some Injury, Opposition, Frustration, Restraint or Coercion, Insult, etc. (Actual or Imaginary) that inclines one to respond in-kind. It is an Emotion implanted in Man by Nature and intended to be Governed by the Dictates of Reason. Since Anger is a Passion, the First Impulse of it is Independent-of Reason or Will, and therefore, as we have seen, is neither Good nor Evil. It becomes Sinful insofar as it Influences or Interferes-with the Judgment of Reason, or if it is out of proportion to the Injury that provoked it, or when it seeks means of Revenge that are Contrary to Reason. Anger is listed among the Capital Sins, because it is the Mother of many Offense against Charity and Justice. The more Violent the Anger, the more Passion becomes Man's master, rather than Reason enlightened by Faith.

One with Deep Faith in God knows that everything that happens to us, no matter how Painful, is permitted by God for our Sanctification. Yet, when Anger flares-up, this thought vanishes, and one sees only the Person against whom the Anger is directed, and against whom one is inclined to react. "Man is master of his actions" says Saint Thomas, "through the Judgment of Reason" (ibid. 158, 2, ad 3), and Anger interferes with that Judgment, and can completely wipe-it-out. The stronger the Passion, the more-blindly one Acts.

Even when the degree of Anger is not extreme, the Calmness of Judgment is Lost, and one no longer sees God's Will, the Image of God in his/her Neighbor, and the fact that what he/she does to another, he/she does to Christ. One Loses Full Control of his/her Actions in the measure that his/her Decisions are dominated-by Pride and Self-Love, for these Vices frequently give rise to Resentment and Anger, preventing one from seeing things in their True-Light, from making Unbiased-Judgments, from making Wise-Decisions, and from refraining from Words and Actions that offend against Courtesy and Kindness.

It might be helpful to see how the Passion of Anger affects the Whole Person, Body and Soul, not only Clouding the Mind, but bringing about Rapid Physical Changes that Mobilize the Body's Forces for Aggression. The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Bodily effects of Anger as follows:

    "As a Passion or Emotion, Anger is Psychosomatic. The visible Physiological changes involved in the Passion of Anger are Increased Pulse, Trembling, Flushed Face, Knit Eyebrows, Tensed Facial Muscles, Dilated and Flashing Eyes, and sometimes Impaired Speech. Internal changes are increased output of Adrenaline, thus causing increased Circulation, Heartbeat, and Blood Pressure - which results in increased Sugar in the Blood and makes Energy available faster to the Brain and Muscles; increased Respiration and Perspiration, in Skin Temperature, and slowing down of the Stomach, Gall Bladder, Kidney and Liver functions. The Physiological changes accompanying Anger are proportionate to the greater or lesser Violence of the Angry Reaction" (M.W. Hollenbach).

We have given in detail these Effects of Anger to show how Greatly and how Quickly this Emotion effects the entire Body as well as the Powers of the Soul, and how important it is to check the Initial Stirrings of this Emotion.

 

Remedies For Anger

caduceus.gif (4521 bytes) One who by Natural Temperament is more prone to Anger must especially be on guard. Prayer is an Indispensable Means to grow in the Virtue of Meekness, which controls the Emotion of Anger. Ask God to see His Providential Hand behind the Disturbing and Upsetting Circumstances, allowing this Situation, this Inconvenience, this Humiliation, this Set-Back, this Disturbance - to Test our Humility, our Patience, our Unselfishness, our Faith and Trust in His Providence. We Squander many Difficult Situations that could be Sources of Grace and Growth. We must never lose-sight-of the fact that the Divine Physician heals as He Wounds, if we are Submissive to His Healing Hand. (Hebrews 12:5,6; Revelation 3:19).

Looking at Anger from a purely Natural point-of-view, some would encourage various types of Physical Exercise, various Physical discharges-of-energy such as Playing Sports, Rail Splitting, Physical Work-Outs, etc. which frequently assist in the Dissipation-of pent-up Rage. These might bring some Temporary Relief, but they do not get at the Causes of Anger. As long as any trace of Pride and Self-Love remain in us, we will encounter situations in which Resentment and Anger cause us to lose some of our Control and Self-Mastery. For as Saint Thomas says: "Meekness makes a Man Master of himself" (ibid. 157,4). Without the Interior Control that Meekness brings of Impulses of Animosity, or Antipathy, or Indignation, etc. we will never face Calmly the Trials of Daily Life.

We have made little progress in the Virtue of Meekness, if when Unexpected Trials, or Contradictions, or Injuries or Offenses come-along, our Peace of Heart vanishes. The Meekness of which we speak comes from a Habitual frame-of-mind that sees the Merciful and Purifying Hand of God in all the Trials of Life, and from a concern to Calm the First Feelings of Anger or Resentment lest they Blind one to God's Purpose.

Seven (7)
Gifts of the Spirit
(*** Best)

Seven (7)
Divine/Infused Virtues
(** Better)

Four (4) Main
Natural/Acquired/Human Virtues
(* Good)

Supernatural/ Divine Nature

Human Nature

Received at
Confirmation

Received at Baptism
along with Sanctifying Grace

Received at Conception and
developed throughout our Life

Understanding

Faith

No Natural Counterpart exists
to the Infused Three (3)
Theological Virtues

Knowledge

Hope

Wisdom

Charity

Counsel

Prudence

Weakened/Damaged Prudence

Fortitude

Fortitude

 Weakened/Damaged Fortitude

Piety

Temperance

Weakened/Damaged Temperance

Fear of the Lord

 Justice

Weakened/Damaged Justice

The Four (4) Main Acquired/Human Virtues are still severely weakened due to Original Sin, and require Divine Aid from the Infused Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is absolutely impossible to attain Heaven by Natural means, Supernatural help is necessary.

By our own efforts alone, however, even Aided by Grace and the Infused Virtues, we will never completely Eradicate all traces of Pride and Selfish Tendencies. But to those who do what they can, the Holy Spirit comes with an added Gift, the Gift of Piety, which Erases the last traces of Ill-feeling toward others, and Softens the Hardness of Heart that stands in the way of His Action in the Soul. True Christian Meekness, then, requires Concern and Effort to Discipline all forms of Pride and Self-Love that give rise to Resentment and Anger, to Calm the First Feelings of Anger when they arise, and the Indispensable Help of the Infused Virtues and Gifts - to be sought with Fervent and Persevering Prayer. The help we ask from the Holy Spirit is expressed in the Sequence of the Mass for Pentecost: "Come, Holy Spirit, bend the stubborn Mind, warm the chilled Heart, guide the steps that go astray".

 

Importance of Meekness

From all that has been said there should be little need to stress the importance of this Virtue. If our Blessed Lord summarized the whole of the Old Law and the New Law in the Two (2) Great Commandments of Charity - Love of God and Neighbor, Meekness is one of the Main Custodians of Charity. This is because it Controls Anger which in so many ways causes one to Offend God and Neighbor. How often do we find People who are Angry with God because of the Trials which His Merciful Providence allows for the Good of their Soul, or because their Prayers seem not to be heard.

Too, Meekness keeps one from Usurping God's Rights, Restraining the Inclination to seek Revenge. "Revenge is Mine, I will Repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

If one would win others to the acceptance of Goodness and Truth, of God's view of things, it will not be by Force or by Sheer Authority which can be Counter-Productive and Arouse Opposition; but rather by Meekness and Patience along with Prayer after the example of our Savior Who is "Meek and Humble of Heart".

Meekness is especially important for Progress in Prayer, for one Agitated with Feelings of Anger and Resentment cannot sincerely apply himself/herself to Recollection and Conversation with God, nor be open to the Inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

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Fortitude

* Patience
Munificence
Magnanimity
Perseverance

 

Each of the Christian Virtues relies on the Help of other Virtues for its Perfect Fulfillment. This is true of Meekness. We have seen how Meekness cannot get along without Humility which keeps Pride in check, for the Main Source of Anger is Hurt Pride and Frustrated Self-Will. Too, Meekness leans heavily on the Virtue of Fortitude in its Passive Aspect of bearing Wrongs Patiently. And it needs the Gift of Piety (refer to large Table above) that brings a Filial Reverence of the Father in Heaven, and an awareness of His Permissive Will in all things.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

Pray to the Mother of Jesus who, like her Son, was "Meek and Humble of Heart". In her Fullness of Grace she was more like Him than any other, for more than all the Angels and Saints she shared in His Divine Life. How truly, at the foot of the Cross, she bore Wrongs Patiently, offering to the Father her Son and herself for the same Redemptive Purpose as Jesus. Obtain for me, Blessed Mother, the Grace to be more like your Son, "Meek and Humble of Heart".

 

Links to other Pages on Virtues and Vices

Three (3) Theological Virtues

Four (4) Main Moral Virtues

Faith

Hope

Charity

Prudence

Justice

Temperance

Fortitude

Species of
Faith

Species of
Hope

Species of
Charity

Species of
Prudence

Species of
Justice

Species of
Temperance

Species of
Fortitude

No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues

Wisdom Religion
Piety
Gratitude
Liberality
Affability
Abstinence
Sobriety
Chastity
Continence
Humility
Meekness
Modesty

Patience
Munificence
Magnanimity
Perseverance

Vices

Pride Avarice Envy Wrath Lust Gluttony Sloth Inordinate
Self-Love